Medical information for patients


Measles is virus infection which was one of the most common diseases of modern man, but is now being eradicated by immunisation. It is predominantly a disease of childhood, causing fever and rash and leading to a very ill child.

Course and symptoms

The incubation period, from exposure to the first symptoms, is between 9 and 11 days. The time from exposure to the appearance of the rash is about 14 days. First symptoms are feeling tired and exhausted, irritability, high fever, runny eyes with swollen eyelids, dislike of the light, and cough and cold symptoms.

A bright red rash breaks out on the forehead and face, then neck and trunk, working down to the feet over three days. The rash tends to last about three days in each site.

Complications of measles

Complications of measles can include: ear infections, convulsions due to the fever (febrile convulsions), pneumonia, conjunctivitis and occasionally more serious eye problems. The heart and nervous system may also be affected. Measles can be fatal or lead to continuing disability, so prevention is much the best option, as no cure yet exists.

Table showing risk of various complications of measles
Complications Risk
Diarrhoea 1 in 6
Ear infections 1 in 20
Pneumonia / bronchitis 1 in 25
Fits (convulsions) 1 in 200
Meningitis / encephalitis 1 in 1000
Death 1 in 2500 to 5000
Serious brain complications years later (Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis) 1 in 8000 (of children who have measles under 2 years)


The cause of measles is the rubeola virus. It has been known for centuries, having been described in writings as long ago as the tenth century.


This is essentially made on the story and symptoms. There are laboratory tests, but these would seldom be of any practical use.



Previously there was a vaccination for measles, given early in the second year of life, in the UK. There is now a vaccine, which, in the UK, is given at at 12 to 15 months, along with vaccines for mumps and German measles. A booster is given before starting school. This vaccine is known as MMR.

Actually having the disease confers lifelong immunity and the vaccine is supposed to have a similar effect. If the worldwide uptake of any vaccine is high enough, the actual disease can be eradicated, as was achieved with smallpox.

Further information

Brief feedback